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Dinosaurs, strawberries and memories of Mel amid the cherry blossom

Franklins Solicitors partner Andrea Smith is an accomplished marathon runner and completed her fifth of the ‘Big 6’ Majors when she crossed the finishing line in Tokyo last month. She reflects on her first visit to Japan, the race itself, raising money in memory of a much-missed friend and her twin ambition: to complete her sixth Major marathon in Boston and to return to the Land of the Rising Sun.

You’ve already completed several marathons. Why Tokyo?

My dream is to complete all six World Marathon Majors. Tokyo was my fifth Major and it also fell on the birthday of Melanie Collins – a much-loved friend and colleague who lost her battle to cancer last year. I tied this marathon in with fundraising for Cancer Research in memory of Mel and am extremely grateful to everyone who sponsored me.

How long were you there for? Where did you stay?

We were in Japan for a total of ten days. I stayed at the Hilton in Shinjuku and then went to Kyoto for a couple of nights and Osaka. We took the Bullet Train to visit some other parts of Japan.

When we got back to Tokyo, we had the Expo to collect my bib so we stayed close by at Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba for two nights and then spent three nights at the Prince Gallery which was between the start and the finish areas.

Had you been to Japan before?

No, this was my first time. It hadn’t been on my list before but I’d like to go back, explore further afield and see more of Japan.

What were your impressions?

It’s very clean and efficient with a great culture. The food is exceptional and the people are welcoming, helpful and friendly. At times it can be very overwhelming depending on where you are as there are so many people, noise, lights, smells and distractions. At all times, though, it feels very safe.

How did you prepare for the Marathon once you were in Japan?

I had a few training runs to do. I went to bed early to adjust to the time difference and I ate a lot of carbs. To be honest, it wasn’t a lot different from any other race. Two days before a race I start to eat Haribo and only eat carbs and try to rest as much as possible… but when you are in a new city, you want to explore and see the sights.

Your thoughts on the food and drink

I loved the food. I enjoyed having miso soup, salad, rice and fish for breakfast.

Five down, one to go… Andrea’s attention now turns to the Boston Marathon in the USA.

Talk us through Race Day.

Race day was exciting. There is a window within which you have to get to the start area. It is a shotgun start but it can take runners a long time from their corral to actually get to the start line. The excitement is palpable with a lot of nervous runners.

The morning was very cold but we knew the temperatures were going to rise so race day clothing was a dilemma.

In Corral G, where I started, I met a lot of international runners and runners who were also going for their 6thstar. They have a note on the back saying to encourage them so they are easy to identify.

Running over the start line, there was a lot of confetti on the floor which we ran over and the race quickly picked up a fast pace. Tokyo is different to other marathons as there are checkpoints you have to pass and if you are not through the checkpoints by the cut-off times you are swept off the course on to waiting yellow buses. They cause extra anxiety for runners!

I need not have worried though as I was well within the cut-off times.

Tokyo Marathon is frequently described as a silent disco because there are not the raucous crowds that London and New York are famous for or the same entertainment. However, that was not my experience of Tokyo.

The crowd support was phenomenal with many Japanese spectators dressed up as dinosaurs or strawberries. There were also runners dressed up – I was overtaken by Mario and saw a couple of people running as Japanese schoolgirls.

The support was fantastic and because the course has several loop backs, I managed to run past the elite runners and the wheelchair participants and the runners who were going to finish in under three hours. I was plodding along compared to the athletes that were sprinting.

The loop backs also meant that I was able to see my partner and son on seven occasions as they were cheering encouragement. On the route we saw some great sights in Tokyo including temples and Tokyo Skytree.

How did you feel at the end?

Amazing- it was incredible to cross the line. We didn’t get our medal straight away as they funnel runners to different finishing areas and I was worried I wasn’t going to get my medal. I also bumped into some runners from MK who I know at the finish area – it was good to see them too.

It was wonderful seeing so many runners in their finishing ponchos milling around with their medals looking for their families and also fabulous to go to the course and cheer some runners on who were still to finish.

I am also really grateful to my coach Matt Dine of DinoMite Endurance, I called him as soon as I crossed the line as I knew he was rooting for me from the UK – his training plan was invaluable to me shaving over 25 minutes from my New York Marathon time four months earlier.

What did you do between the race and returning to the UK?

I had a really big meal on Sunday night. On Monday we visited Ueno Park to see the ‘sakura’ (cherry blossom) and I had a massage. We also had a nine-course vegan meal on our last night.

What are your abiding memories of Tokyo and Japan?

It was exciting getting my fifth star and an honour to run in memory of Melanie. The city of Tokyo is vast and we visited the Sky Tree which is the tallest building in Tokyo and you could see the expanse of the city.

For a city so vast, it is so clean and efficient. It was also beautiful to experience Sakura, the blossom season.

What’s next?

Ultimately, I want to compete in Boston to get my Six Star Finisher Medal. Boston is a difficult race to get into unless you are fast or can raise over 10k for charity. The field size is also about half that of the other majors so it is very competitive.

I need to lose 50 minutes off my finishing time of 4:39:45 to qualify for Boston so I am running the Berlin Marathon again in September in the hope of getting a Personal Best. However, to get a place in Berlin I had to sign up for Rome last month – 12 days after I got back from Tokyo.

Mentally the race is challenging and it is not just physical endurance that needs training but mental so I have signed up for a longer race in the hope that the marathon distance may be less challenging.

Andrea Smith is head of business services at Franklins Solicitors.


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